Converting an idea into success can be achieved through direct investment or pre-sales after a market test, both of which needs to be preceded by one object. That is a physical practical prototype.
A number of people might find it helpful to have a clear process on how to move forward, including innovators with great ideas, start-ups new to prototyping, and companies new to product design.
1. Idea feasibility analysis
An idea can seem great but when all is said and done, it is not feasible. That is why it is important to gauge the idea feasibility early on before any capital investment is made. The analysis should take into consideration measuring the level to which the idea implementation will solve the problem it was initially created to fix. This could be done against a set of requirements identified when the idea was conceived.
2. Prior art research and Intellectual property
Prior art is any evidence that idea is already known. It does not need to exist physically or be commercially available, previously being described can be enough. However, where a prior art exists does not always constitutes a barrier against its use.
Sometimes the idea has already been deployed without legal backing like a patent, in such case it is sometimes feasible to use the same idea with little to no modifications. Although, it might be wise to make sure the idea was not well protected for a good reason, e.g. being unfeasible.
It pays to conduct prior art research to make sure you do not infringe on others rights, but also to get inspiration from previous works and try to go the extra mile instead of reinventing the wheel. This is especially helpful for bigger companies who can afford royalties to use innovative developed ideas.
3. Concepts development and selection
A concept is the implementation plan of the idea. It is as important, if not more important than the idea itself. Usually it takes significant time to develop a good concept and the process has to go through a number of concept before finalizing one or two concepts.
4. Preliminary and detailed design
The theoretical implementation of the idea starts by a preliminary design based on the selected concept(s). This step outlines all main features of the product and identifies the general shape and size. Product aesthetics are usually defined and frozen within this step.
The detailed design then goes on to identify all the specifics of the products, especially those directly related to product ease of manufacturing and assembly. One of most important factors identified in this step is product strength and durability.
The design is then presented using 3D drawings, usually in STEP file format. However, higher standards require the 3D drawing to be paired with 2D technical drawings identifying specific tolerances and finish required for each feature of the product parts. This is of particular importance if you want to make sure all interfacing parts match together in the assembly.
5. Prototype preparation
Prototypes are important to the movement of the design from the digital to the physical existence. This is very helpful to assist visual and functional aspects. It also helps get feedback from various stakeholders, especially the end user. Prototypes range from basic ones usually now done using FDM 3D printers to sophisticated ones done using final manufacturing processes, e.g. CNC milling, Injection molding.
Prototypes are different from mock-ups, where mock-ups can be started, as early as, in the concept development stage to provide an understanding of ideas. Prototypes are usually used to validate ideas usability at a closer level to the actual end product.
Simple 3D printed prototype part using FDM
An alternative to this process would be a simple mock-up prepared from e.g. cardboard, to represent the idea, or an off-the-shelf product modified to add the value expected from the new idea.